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Minority college students breaking barriers in prestigious programs

Posted at 5:21 AM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 07:32:58-05

TEMPE, AZ — They are our future agents of change who will go on to make a difference in our country and the world. However, years of systemic barriers have kept many college students from applying to prestigious fellowship programs, but now there is a push for diversity and inclusion.

"I really think about the people that came before me that were just as accomplished, just as able, that weren't necessarily given this opportunity because of, you know, systematic barriers," said Alexander Sojourney, an Arizona State University graduate.

Sojourney is one of 46 students named as a 2021 Marshall Scholar. He's now preparing to move to the United Kingdom this fall, and he's most excited about being uncomfortable in a new environment.

This year's class of Marshall Scholars is helping to break barriers.

"The 2021 cohort of the Marshall recipients, it was the first minority-majority finalists' cohort ever, so I definitely think that's room to celebrate, and I hope that paves the way for other prestigious scholarships to follow," Sojourney said.

During the month of March, ASU is hosting a series of virtual discussions and information sessions about prestigious fellowship programs with hopes of increasing interest from students of all backgrounds.

Kyle Mox, Associate Dean for National Scholarships Advisement at ASU, helps students like Sojourney apply for these highly competitive programs.

"I believe that you can't fix problems with the thinking that caused them... So you know if everyone comes from the same background, with the same life experience and looks at the problems that face our, our country. We need new voices in there all the time, we need people to have different backgrounds and understanding and ways of knowing and talking and thinking," Mox said.

Sojourney was a finalist for both the Marshall Scholars and Rhodes Scholars programs. His academic achievements, on-campus activities, and activism set him apart from the crowd. He's now focused on his future, which includes helping to fight for policies and legislation that embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion.

"After the duration of the program, I'd hope to run for political office. I'd like to be an advocate to push forward for more inclusive legislation, housing and eventually run for Senator of Arizona, that is my long-term goal," Sojourney said.